Bearing the Torch, 76 years ago today
U.S. troops aboard a landing craft head for the beaches during Operation Torch of the North African Campaign Oran, Algeria. 8 November 1942.
Note the man wearing the old school “Brodie” helmet in the back of the boat, probably a Royal Navy man, as the group had spent 22 days aboard the converted ocean liner RMS Orbita on the voyage from Scotland to North Africa. The men aren’t wearing unit patches, but the cased gear to the front right look to be marked “1-19” which could be 1st Bn/19th INF Regt, which at the time was in the States and would later serve in the Pacific. In fact, they are men of the 1st coy, 19th Engineer Battalion, who did take part in the Torch landings.
Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the Torch landings would be the U.S. Army’s first brush with war in the ETO. Other than a few officers and NCOs with Great War experience or service in the National Guard, most of these men were recent volunteers and draftees, living ordinary lives in George Bailey’s America and had only held a gun when going hunting or at a carnival shooting gallery. It’s a good thing the French didn’t really have the inclination to mix it up. The 19th Engineers went on to serve at the horrors of the Kasserine Pass (where they lost 3/4 of their active strength and it was reported that “the 19th Engineers no longer exist”) and the Rapido River, where the Germans were much more ready to fight.
As noted by the Army “During World War II, The battalion conducted five amphibious landings while accompanying the victorious allied armies through Africa, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. The battalion had suffered 902 combat casualties including 144 killed in action. For their gallantry and service, the battalion was awarded 10 campaign streamers from World War II, and soldiers from the battalion were awarded 7 Silver Stars and 13 Bronze Stars”
Below is a great doc on the 19th, with several interviews with vets, and directly shows the above image as a reference.
The 19th is still on active duty, based at Fort Knox.